The opening years of the twentieth century were stormy. That was the time when the
greatest catastrophe of history took place. The political scenario was undergoing a
change. The British were beginning to feel a bit uneasy. Discontentment was brewing.
Political discontent was growing due to the inability of the government to organize
effective relief during the period of plague and famine. In order to stem the discontent,
the British played the political trump card with great aplomb. For the first time, they used
their divide-and-rule political game with great force. From 1870 onwards, the British
started inciting the Hindus and the Muslims to form their own political parties to
establish their distinct religious identities. That was perhaps, the beginning of the
communalisation of politics. The British not only encouraged the two communities to
form political parties along religious lines, they took various constructive steps to create
a situation whereby Hindus and Muslims would be forced to think in a way as if their
religious identity is at peril. This effort culminated in the partition of Bengal in 1905.
West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar was on one side and the erstwhile east Bengal and
Assam was on the other. The partition was made along communal lines. This partition
provided an impetus to the religious divide and, as a result of that, All India Muslim
League and All India Hindu Mahasabha was formed. Both the organisations aimed at
fanning communal passions.
Origin Of The Partition :
The Partition of Bengal in 1905 , was made on 16 october by thenviceroy of india , Lord
Curzon . Due to the high level of political unrest generated by the partition, the eastern
and western parts of Bengal were reunited in 1911.The province of Bengal had an area
of 489,500 sq. km. and a population of over 80 million. Eastern Bengal was almost
isolated from the western part by geography and poor communications. In 1836, the
upper provinces were placed under a lieutenant governor, and in 1854 the Governor-
General-In-Council was relieved of the direct administration of Bengal. In 1874 Assam,
including Sylhet, was severed from Bengal to form a Chief-Commissionership, and the
Lushai Hills were added to it in 1898.
Background of Partition :
Bengal presidency was too large for British Governor to administer. So in 1905, the
English rulers decided to divide Bengal in two parts and redraw its boundaries for the
convenience of administration. The Partition of Bengal in 1905 was effective from 16
October by then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. But due to extensive political protest
against Bengal Partition, the eastern and western part of Bengal were reunited in 1911.
The Bengal province had an area of one hundred and eighty nine thousand square
miles and seventy-eight and half million
population. Eastern part of Bengal was
geographically isolated from the Western part of
Bengal. Also communication was very
poor. In 1836, the upper provinces of Bengal
were placed under a Lieutenant Governor. In
1854 the Governor- General-in-Council was
alleviated of the direct administration of Bengal.
In the year 1874, separating of Assam did
another experimentation and Sylhet was
separated from Bengal to form Chief Commissionership and Lushai Hills were added to
it in the year 1898.
The idea of partitioning Bengal first came in 1903. There were also proposals to
separate Chittagong and the districts of Dhaka and Mymensingh from the province of
Bengal and attaching them to the province of Assam and in the similar way Chhota
Nagpur was attached to Central Provinces.
The Government officially published the idea of Partitioning Bengal in the month of
January of 1904 and in February, Lord Curzon himself went on an official tour to East
Bengal to get an assessment of public opinion on partition. He discussed with leading
political personalities of Bengal and delivered speeches explicating Government`s
position and stand on partition at Dhaka, Mymensingh and Chittagong.
The new Province would have thirty one million population of which twelve million
Hindus and eighteen million would be Muslims and hundred and six thousand and five
hundred and forty square miles. The new province was named as `Eastern Bengal and
Assam`and Dhaka was its capital while subsidiary headquarters were at Chittagong.
The administration would include Legislative Council; a Board of Revenue of two
members but the jurisdiction of Calcutta High Court was left undisturbed. The
Government also mentioned that the state of Eastern Bengal and Assam would have a
clearly demarcated western boundary and well defined geographical, linguistic,
ethnological and social characteristics.
Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India decided to partition Bengal for administrative
purposes, creating a new province of East Bengal and Assam, with a population of 31
million people and with its capital at Dhaka. The Brahmaputra and the Padma (the
Ganges) rivers physically defined this first partition of Bengal. East Bengal prospered,
Dhaka assumed its old status as capital and Chittagong became an important sea port.
Given below is the proclamation of partition:
The Governor-General is pleased to constitute the territories at present under the
administration of the Chief Commissioner of Assam to be for the purposes of the
Indian Councils Act 1861... a province to which the provisions of that Act
touching the making of laws and regulations for the peace and good order of the
presidencies of Fort St. George and Bombay shall be applicable and to direct
that the said province shall be called and known as the province of Eastern
Bengal and Assam....
The Governor-General in Council is pleased to specify the sixteenth day of
October, 1905 as the period at which the said provisions shall take effect and
15th as the number of councilors whom the Lieutenant-Governor may nominate
for his assistance in making laws and regulations.
The Governor-General in Council is further pleased to declare and appoint that
upon the constitution of the said province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, the
districts of Dacca, Mymensingh, Faridpur, Backergunge, Tippera, Noakhali,
Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Rajashahi, Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Rangpur,
Bogra, Pabna, and Malda which now form part of the Bengal Division of the
Presidency of Fort William shall cease to be subject to or included within the
limits of that Division, and shall thenceforth be subject to and included within the
limits of the Lieutenant-Governorship of the province of Eastern Bengal and
Reason of the Partition :
The partition of Bengal,said Lord Curzon,was a "mere readjustment of administrative
boundaries".The argument advanced in favour of the partition was that it would improve
the administration of the two provinces.But there were some evil motives for this action.
1.To Strike at the roots of Bengali Nationalism: The real motive was to break "the
growing solidarityof Bengali nationalism".Bengal at that time was considered to be "the
nerve-centre of India nationalism". Lord Curzon decided to crush the new spirit by
Dividing the politically advanced communities into separate provinces.
2.The Policy Of Divide & Rule: Another motive was to drive a wedge between the
Hindus and the Muslims .In February 1904,Curzon went on a tour of East Bengal,where
he addressed a number of meetings.He explained the muslims that "His object in
partitioning Bengal was not only to relieve the Bengal administration,but also to create a
3.To demonstrate the strength of the British Raj: Lord Curzon was reactionary,having
great dislike for democratic ideals.He believed that people of India,illiterate as the
were,could have no political aspiration.
The first part of a news item, which appeared in the Amrita Bazar Patrika of 17 October
1905 entitled “Calcutta in Mourning-A Unique Sight”, describing the situation in Calcutta
on 16 October 1905, the day Bengal was partitioned, is given below.
‘Yesterday was one of the most memorable days in the history of the British
administration of India. It being the day on which the Bengal Partition scheme took
effect, the day on which our unsympathetic government forced a measure by a
proclamation in the official gazette against the wishes of the whole population, the day
on which our rulers tried to separate the Bengali speaking people of the East Bengal
from those of the West Bengal, the people of Calcutta, irrespective of nationality, social
position, creed and sex, observed it as a day of mourning. The leaders of the Bengali
community- Hindus and Mohammedans-did not however silently mourn and weep. They
as a legacy to posterity and as a landmark to British administration laid the foundation of
the Federation Hall. They also took a practical step towards the furtherance of the
Swadeshi movement by opening the National Fund.’
Sixteenth of October 1905 was observed as the day of mourning. Right from the
morning thousands of people began taking dip in Ganges. Hindus and Muslims tied
rakhis to each other to show their indestructible unity. People in Calcutta walked bare-
foot in the streets shouting the slogan ‘Vande Mataram’. Such was effect of the slogan
that the British prohibited the use of it in Bengal.
The partition of Bengal led many youths to resort to arms. In different parts of the
country a number of secret societies sprang up, particularly in Bengal and Maharashtra.
To terrorize the British officers, they trained members, mostly students in the use of fire-
arms. In this, Aurobindo Ghosh and his associates Bengal and one Chapekar brother
and the Savarkar brothers in Maharashtra were quite active. By assassinating
unpopular British officials and their Indian agents, their main method was to spread
terror. Attempts were made on the lives of Lt. Governor of Bengal and the Viceroy.
Khudiram Bose, a 16 year old fired a shot at a district judge on April 30, 1908, which
accidentally killed two English women instead. He was caught, flogged and hanged. But
the main consequence of the Partition of Bengal was the Swadeshi and Boycott
It was with the sense of a need for organisation, the sense of intense bitterness at the
Congress, and the realisation that the liberation of India would have to be won by force,
that led to the emergence of the revolutionary terrorists. Many Swadeshi movement
radicals joined the movement: among them, Ajit Singh's group in Punjab and the
Tirunelveli radicals after the arrest of Pillai and Siva. These early revolutionaries' special
contribution was in putting forward a conscious alternative path of struggle to the
Congress's peaceful petitioning. Jugantar (which along with Bande Mataram and
Sandhya was one of the leading magazines representing this trend) wrote about the
police assault on the peaceful Barisal conference:
"The 30 crores of people inhabiting India must raise their 60 crores of hands to stop this
course of oppression. Force must be stopped by force."
Swadeshi & Boycott Movement:
The spark for the Swadeshi Movement was the British decision to partition Bengal.
Viceroy Curzon's scheme, ostensibly for "administrative convenience", to divide Bengal
into Eastern and Western provinces, was indeed a major provocation. First, the
Congress, and political activity in general, were strongest in Bengal. Moreover, Curzon
had an obsessive hatred of the Congress: "The Congress", he wrote to the Secretary of
State, "is tottering to its fall, and one of my great ambitions while in India is to assist it to
a peaceful demise." His Secretary of State, on the other hand, differed. Congress
leaders, of course, were unhappy with Curzon's hostility, and compared him
unfavourably with earlier, more liberal, Viceroys. Gokhale complained, "The
bureaucracy was growing frankly selfish and openly hostile to national aspirations. It
was not so in the past.”
Swadeshi, which means of ones own country, implied that people should use only the
goods produced in India and boycott foreign goods. On August 7, 1905, in a public
meeting at the Calcutta Town Hall, the Boycott Resolution was passed. Tilak had
attempted a boycott of foreign cloth in 1896, but failed to elicit such response. The
response in Bengal was overwhelming: By September 1905, the sale of British cloth in
some districts fell to between 6 and 20 per cent of original levels. Public burning of
foreign cloth and the setting up of village samitis took place spontaneously. One of
these samitis, the Swadesh Bandhab Samiti of Barisal, headed by the schoolteacher
Aswinikumar Dutt, attained remarkable popularity for its social and humanitarian work
among the largely Muslim peasantry. It was reported even in 1909 to have 175 village
The Swadeshi movement also saw a remarkable upsurge in labour organisation, with
the added feature of active public sympathy with the strikers. Among the strikes of this
period (1905-8) in Bengal were those of clerical staff, Calcutta tram workers, jute
workers, railway workers (of various categories, from clerical staff to coolies), and press
workers. The Swadeshi movement in Bengal also saw the emergence of labour unions
and professional agitators. Bombay, Madras and Punjab also witnessed the growth of a
spontaneous anti-imperialist labour movement - the most famous example being the
1908 strike of Bombay textile workers in protest against Tilak's arrest.
Among the many lasting achievements of the Swadeshi movement were its contribution
to anti-imperialist culture - whether in Rabindranath Tagore's earlier writings, in
Subramania Bharati's poems, or, most importantly, in the vast number of extremely
popular patriotic folk songs, folk plays, and other forms of people's art. The writings of
"extremist" journalists also philosophically advanced the Indian liberation struggle. For
instance, as Indian "extremists" started building contacts with Irish radicals, a sense of
the world-wide anti-imperialist movement (which had, of course, nourished the
beginnings of Swadeshi - as in its drawing inspiration from China and the Russian
Revolution) was getting enunciated.
The year 1905 was in many ways a turning point. Its immediate impact was political.
Bengal at that time was a hot bed of anti British political activity. Though for some time a
partition of the huge province was being contemplated for administrative convenience,
Curzon decided to kill two birds with one stone. By dividing the Bengali speaking
population on communal grounds, he hoped to break the nationalist movement. But
what happened was just the opposite. The anti- British feeling did not fizzle out. Instead,
a new wave of patriotism swept through the province. The protest snowballed to such
proportions that finally the partition had to be annulled in 1911. But the protesters had to
pay a price. From Calcutta, the capital was shifted to Delhi.
The Muslim population found the partition effective for them. Before the partition it was
western Bengal, mainly Calcutta and its adjacent area came under the British influence
first and enjoyed the facility of education, development and industrialization. On the
other hand the Eastern part of Bengal due to lack of communication could not have the
benefits of development. The socio-economic condition of the Muslim population was
poor and they suffered under the rule of Hindu Landlords. The rivers were full of pirates
and a minimum amount was funded for education. The partition caused a boost in
Bengali Literature and language and Muslim society underwent a social, economic and
The Muslims of Bengal welcomed partitioning of Bengal in 1905 but the Hindus strongly
opposed it. They started a mass movement, declaring October 16 as the `day of
mourning` in Calcutta. They were influenced by the Chinese boycott and began
`Swadeshi Movement` against the British. The Hindus raised the Band-I -Mataram
slogan as the national cry and put Shivaji as their national hero. This anarchist
movement also turned into terrorism and political sabotage, which finally resulted in
This whole situation created a political crisis. Sir Henry Cotton, the Chief Commissioner
of Assam, led the opposition by Indian National Congress. But this could not move Lord
Curzon. In 1906,Rabindranath Tagore wrote Amar Sonar Bangla as a cry against the
Partition of Bengal. Cotton coordinated a successful campaign to expel the first
Lieutenant Governor of East Bengal, Sir Bampfylde Fuller.
As a result of this political protest, the British decided to undo their earlier decision to
partition Bengal and two parts of Bengal were reunited in 1911. This act saddened the
Muslim community. New provinces were made depending on the linguistic ground
rather than religious grounds. The states were formed depending on the Hindi, Oriya
and Assamese languages. The Administrative capital of British India moved from
Kolkata to New Delhi. However, conflict between Hindus and Muslims persisted and as
a result new laws were passed to satisfy the political needs of both groups
The main reason for the Partition was purely political. The Hindus were in a better
position in terms of economic status, professional qualities etc, than the Muslims.
During the pre-Sepoy Mutiny period, section of Hindu traders greatly helped the British
while their Muslim counterparts did not. The British were angry. With the spread of
Western education Hindus made a big way, but the Muslims could not. A sense of
deprivation crept in. Perhaps, the sense of deprivation was engineered. When the
discontentment grew in the beginning of this century, the British capitalised on this
sense of deprivation. A feeling of inferiority was there. The British merely added fuel to
fire. Suddenly both the communities became aware of their religious identities. The net
result is the Partition of Bengal. The sear of Partition is yet to heal.